Wine pairings have been part of Santa Barbara’s dining scene for decades, but as the region’s brewmasters continue to specialize their suds, we are starting to see a lot more beer-pairing dinners as well.
The next one comes up this Wednesday, July 17, at Arlington Tavern on Victoria Street, where Chef Ron True is making a special meal to go along with beers from Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company, which started in Buellton in 2010 and recently opened a new brewpub down in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. Along other highlights on the evening’s menu, which you can see here, are a smoked New York strip with Hoppy Poppy IPA mash and a truffle mac ‘n’ cheese to go with the Danish Red Lager.
In anticipation of the dinner, True answered a few of my questions this past week.
As a chef, what’s the appeal of doing special one-off dinners like this?
It’s a chance for new people to experience what we do at the tavern. It might be the tipping point for them to come in for the first time. We put a lot of heart, integrity, and quality ingredients in our food, so we are sure that we get quality plates coming from the kitchen.
Is there any fundamental difference when making a beer-pairing menu compared to a wine-pairing one?
Certainly, they are different fundamentally — one is made from hops, barley, and grains, the other from fruit/grapes. Each give you different qualities, but it’s still easy to find a pairing for a dish because there is such a variety of beers now. Beer has really taken off — at the tavern we have 20-plus different beers to choose from.
[My business partner] Diego Barbieri has really introduced some different beers that I would never have considered before. Beer is really hot, and Figueroa Mountain has something like 20 different beers to choose from at the tasting room? That’s a lot of beer.
What does beer bring to a meal that wine does not?
To start with, carbonation and various types of flavors depending on the process from which it was made. That lends itself to pairing with fatty foods, grilled meats, or fish.
This is a hard question because I can name some wines that can measure up to pair with similar foods as well. I think it depends on what you’re in the mood for. Like I said before, I think that beer as evolved further now that it has a significant foot in the door to challenge wine when pairing with food. I make mustards from the beers we have on tap, and with Figueroa Mountain, I make a smoked hoppy poppy mustard that goes well with our crispy pork belly and potato salad.
What is it about Figueroa Mountain’s beers that make them so well suited for food?
There are so many of them to choose from, and they all seem to have a simple complexity to them. They can be enjoyed on their own or with food and there certainly isn’t any pretense to them either so that makes them more approachable as well. I think Zaca Mesa wines are similar in this way.
Have you ever made beer yourself?
I have not made beer yet it is on my culinary bucket list of things to do. I did have the intention years ago but have not started yet. I’m still furthering my education with beer one sip at a time.
If you could make the perfect food-pairing beer, what kind would it be and why?
Well, that’s a trick question, it’s like inventing the ever-lasting gobstopper. There are so many flavors that I don’t think that there is one perfect beer that can cover them. And things are constantly changing, like the seasons.
For instance, it’s been so hot we have a watermelon beer that we serve, a watermelon puree mixed with a blond beer. It’s very refreshing now but not likely in January or February when it cools down.
Is there any beer that doesn’t go with Arlington Tavern food?
So far Diego and I haven’t tasted a beer we can’t pair something with, but I’m sure there is something out there that just wants to be it’s own thing with nothing to compliment it. But that just sounds somewhat sad and boring.